News Just In: Michael Root becomes Catholic!

HT to Christine for this, who has just sent me the links.

Dr. Michael Root is a very well respected lay theologian who was Professor of Systematic Theology at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC, and Dean of that same institution from 2003 to 2009. He has been blogging about the current ELCA woes on “Lutherans Persisting”, which had not had an update since March this year (there is a certain irony in the title of that blog, btw). Michael has in fact visited this blog in the past (commenting on this post) and thus is in fact a honourary guest at our little table.

Anyway, to business. As the title of this blog has already proclaimed, now comes the news that Dr Michael is the latest leading American Lutheran theologian to dive into the Tiber and come up on the other side (unlike the Anglicans – who get a bridge to facilitate their and so get to stay “high and dry” – Lutherans still have to swim). Someone who knows him writes about it here. The same writer provides an excerpt from Dr Root’s statement to his Seminary faculty:

“On Monday I shared with the faculty the news that in the near future I will be received into the Catholic Church. I now wish to share that news with you. This action is not one that I take lightly. The Lutheran church has been my intellectual and spiritual home for forty years. But we are not masters of our convictions. A risk of ecumenical study is that one will come to find another tradition compelling in a way that leads to a deep change in mind and heart. Over the last year or so, it has become clear to me, not without struggle, that I have become a Catholic in my mind and heart in ways that no longer permit me to present myself as a Lutheran theologian with honesty and integrity.

This move is less a matter of decision than of discernment.

No single issue has been decisive for me, but at the center of my reflection has been the question of how God’s grace engages the justified person and the church in the divine mission of salvation. How are we redeemed as the free and responsible agents God created us to be? Catholic theology speaks of God elevating the justified person and the church to participation in the divine life and mission, so that God grants the Christian and the church participation in God’s actions in a different way than Lutheran theology affirms. Catholic teachings do not follow from that vision with deductive force, but they do hang together with that vision in ways that I have come to find deeply convincing.”

I can deeply identify with the passage in this statement that I have highlighted. At the same time I am not quite sure what Dr Root means by the final sentence in the above statement (partly because I am not sure what “that vision” refers to). And I am sure that while Dr Root does not feel himself able to describe himself any longer as a “Lutheran” theologian, yet his very decision shows him to be and to remain a “theologian with honesty and integrity”. And, I would suspect, unless his experience is different from mine, he will remain in his own particular way, a Lutheran as well – with important distinction that he is now “a-Lutheran-in-communion-with-the-Bishop-of-Rome” as we say here on SCE!

In any case, welcome Michael to the Catholic Church. I think this calls for the whisky bottle, rather than the port…

[In the meantime, a warning to other Lutherans out there: if you don’t want to end up Catholic like Michael and I and others reading this ‘ere blog have, then DON’T (whatever you do) actually do any serious study of what the Catholic Church teaches and why she teaches it. That path has only one conclusion for a “theologian with honesty and integrity”.]

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7 Responses to News Just In: Michael Root becomes Catholic!

  1. Christine says:

    A risk of ecumenical study is that one will come to find another tradition compelling in a way that leads to a deep change in mind and heart.

    A good response, I think, to those who will dismiss Dr. Root as “never having been” Lutheran anyway.

  2. Mmm…I’ve studied what the Catholic Church actually teaches, David, and yet I have no desire to convert. Does that mean I lack honesty and integrity? That comment seems very uncharitable and bigoted, if you don’t mind my saying so.

    • Alfredo Watkins says:

      I agree. That’s sort of uncharitable. Not that I think the Catholic religion is any less true, or that any other one is true, but I’m sure that some people honestly cannot accept intellectually what the Church teaches. Whether this is from ignorance (and I don’t use this term offensively) or from other deep-seated reasons, we should be more charitable.

  3. Thank you for the news-post above regarding Dr. Michael Root. Please allow that I make this correction: He is not (nor has he ever been) “the Rev.” Dr. Michael Root. He is one of the forerunners of a string of fine lay theologians who have served American Lutheranism.

  4. Christine says:

    Yes, one can certainly “study” another tradition and not be moved to leave one’s own. Sometimes the academic approach, however, is enough to whet one’s appetite to dive in and see what actually living that tradition out day to day turns out to be.

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